Thursday, 26 February 2009

For the Love of Literature

I am taking great pleasure in relaxing each afternoon with C. S. Lewis. This letter style of book is revealing. Each page is like watching this man's life unfold before my very eyes. Year by year I am seeing him grow, seeing his views and opinions, likes and dislikes altered by years and experience. I am also getting a brilliant education on the great works of literature. Spending his teen years being privately tutored (he hated formal schools) and also having a natural love of literature means that his letters are filled with the latest work he is reading. It is evident that his entire education was based around simply reading. There is much to learn about a people, a moment in history, a language, a geography, by reading the works of literature it produced.

The growth is gradual and ofttimes, for pages on end, too minuscule to notice. But then I reflect on the overall change over the past year of his life and see that indeed he is being shaped and molded bit by bit. I can also glean as much from what isn't there, written in his letters, as what is. He felt much of the everyday things were necessary but pedantic, and not worth the attention on page. Much more revealing, Lewis thought, was how one is affected by the art around him - poetry, drawing, music. He had little use for politics, and even though he resided in England through the Great War, has written little about it to this point (the end of 1916). Lewis also writes about his own literary creations and failings, and includes critiques of his best friend's works also. The cavalier mention of names like "the Brontes" and honest (brutal) critiques of contemporary "masterpieces" shows thoughtful and shameless opinions.

While the daunting collected works of letters of C. S. Lewis (over 3000 pages all told) may not pique your interest, I certainly recommend reading someone's published letters. (I know there exists one for Jane Goodall, which began rather delightfully.) See if there isn't a book of letters of a favourite author or person of interest. It illuminates so many aspects of his or her works by watching that person formed before your eyes. It also provides a few good laughs as art imitates life.

(Listening to "The Screwtape Letters" this morning, the forward explains that the compiler, Lewis, "made no attempt to try to re-order the letters according to dates. Some of the letters seem obviously out of order, but the compiler himself sees no use in dating letters at all, preferring to order letters in a more organic fashion." I chuckled at that, because just the other day I read in one of C.S. Lewis' own letters the very same point of view on dating letters, conceding only to do so at the request of his friend.)

In the end, even if I wasn't finding a friend in this man who lived a century ago, I am simply excited to see such a complete and concise list of great literature pieces to delve into, with someone's personal thoughts on many of them also. I am provoked to find friends with who I can discuss the books and music I ramble through. I am inspired as an artist again, with imaginations in poetry and prose and music and art and creation bubbling up inside.

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